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5 tips for safer tanning

Summer is here. Schools are starting summer break and people will be flocking to beaches, pools and parks to enjoy the warm weather. It is the season of fun and unfortunately, the season of sun burns! The combination of global warming and dissipating ozone layer from our atmosphere create an environment that can cause quicker and deeper sun burns.

I completely understand that a sun tan can give a healthy and glamorous appearance, but there is no such thing as a healthy tan. Any time your skin is tanned or burned by the sun, it's a sign of damage. The more intense the sun exposure, and the more often you're exposed, the greater the risk of developing skin cancer. Prolonged and intense sun exposure also hastens the aging process of the skin, increasing wrinkles and brown spots. The 5 tips listed below are not meant to infer that tanning is recommended, but provided to decrease the amount of damage from the sun.

1. Choose the right time of day to be outdoors

As the sun moves higher in the sky, the sun's rays become more intense and damaging to the skin and eyes. This is because the ultraviolet (UV) light travels a shorter, more direct distance to reach the Earth. Schedule outdoor activities before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. (standard time) or before 11 a.m. and after 4 p.m. (daylight savings time). You will still get a tan, but the harsher rays are avoided.

2. Apply sunscreen SPF 30 or higher, and then RE-apply

Find a good sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher, apply liberally, and re-apply at least every 2 hours, or after swimming or excessively sweating. It should provide "broad spectrum" protection, meaning it blocks harmful UVA and UVB rays. SPF 30 blocks 97% of the sun's harmful UVB rays, SPF 50, 98%. Also, "water resistant" does not mean "water proof," and no sunscreen is water proof. Any sunscreen claiming to be water resistant, must state on it's label how long the resistance lasts, usually 40 to 80 minutes. When in doubt, re-apply or seek out a shady spot!

3. Block the sun during hottest times

In harsh mid-day sun, cover up! There are excellent fabrics designed to be comfortable in the heat and block damaging rays. Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is a rating system used for apparel. It indicates how effectively fabrics shield skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays. The higher the UPF number, the greater degree of UV protection a garment offers. Hats with wide brims offer excellent protection for the face. Wear sunglasses, even with a hat, to protect your eyes and retinas.

4. No tanning beds

Tanning beds are a terrible idea! Studies have shown that they increase the incidence of the most deadly form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma. Long term use also speeds the skin's aging process. There is no reason or argument to use them because of the severe risks.

5. Self tanners are a better alternative

Self Tanners have come a long way, and when properly applied, can look as good as the harmful alternative. Start out with a lighter tone, especially on the face. As application skills and comfort lever improves, you can try darker tones. Preparation and application are key with self tanner. You should first exfoliate with a scrub in the shower to remove dead, flaky skin cells. One trick is to apply the tanner to your body with a damp sponge in circular motions. This allows the tanner to go on evenly and blends away streaks. The only drawback is an allergic reaction, causing dermatitis or skin inflammation. If this occurs, stop using the product immediately. If you have sensitive skin, try testing a small area on your body with a small amount of the tanning product to see if you react.

So you can still enjoy summer fun in the sun, just be smart about it. Remember damage from the sun is cumulative and irreversible, so think big picture when tempted to fry like a lobster!


Robert Tornambe, MD is a New York City Plastic Surgeon and Medical Advisor for Trueself. Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, Dr. Tornambe has been practicing plastic surgery for more than 25 years. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, was featured in NYMAG's "Best Doctors" issue, and was the Chief of Plastic Surgery at NYC's Cabrini Medical Center for 20 years.